I'm Already Wealthy

I was wealthy for about four years and didn't even know it. I was reading this article by a former executive from a huge bank on Wall Street (Goldman), in which he describes what it means to be wealthy. I'll sum up his point with some little gems at the end are:

"Let’s say you love feeding the less fortunate.  If you have enough passive income in excess of your expenses that you could ladle soup to the homeless – even though that service pays you almost nothing – then you are wealthy.

If you would sell bonds for a living, for the sheer joy itself – the act of efficiently allocating capital or whatever you tell yourself – then you don’t care what your actual bonus is today from Goldman.  So what if you’re down 25% from last year, or you’re up 100%?  Who cares?   You love it!  If you’d do it anyway, and you can afford to do it, then you are a wealthy person."

In other words, wealth is both a state of mind and a state of financial health. Most refer to it as 'retirement'--amassing assets as early as possible until they can live off of those assets. I often hear about retirement as a time in which people "live their life." One of my life goals has been to never feel like I am delaying my life. More than a goal, it's a fear. I fear delaying myself from doing the things I love. Namely, being creative. 

But I realize now, and the aforementioned article stated it so clearly, that I have been doing what I want even though I haven't amassed monetary wealth. For instance, after graduating from a top tier undergraduate university with $28k in loans I moved back home and taught in a low-income neighborhood. I made about $37k each year. I loved living at home, being with my family, and teaching was incredibly rewarding. All the while I saved to take a year to explore (a.k.a. a year "off." I hate referring to any part of my life as "off" so I say "explore" instead). I'd planned to take half of the year and work in government and the other half to work in film/photography/art. My meager savings of about $10k enabled me to take an unpaid internship in Washington, D.C., and then move to Hawai'i to explore photography. I lived off of my savings for about 10 months, never missed a loan payment, got extra cash from photography gigs, and cashed in on some my perks from teaching to pay down my loans. I got them down to about $10k over three years and now, 5 years out, have about $7k left.

The real moral here though is not my loans, but the state of mind I was in while exploring. Although I was nervous about how things would turn out (i.e. Would I get an internship in DC?), I had total flexibility. I had no dependents, obligations, nor true direct responsibilities outside of myself besides a measly $100 monthly loan payment. This. Was. Freedom. 

Whenever a friends and former classmates called to discuss how overwhelmed they felt about not knowing which path to take, I would try to put things in perspective and tell them that we are privileged, educated, and young. And all we have to complain about is having too many choices, and too much opportunity. This was really to assure both my friend and myself that everything really was going to be okay--that we were free. Our biggest problem was too many choices. Say it with me now:  first world problems. 

Today I also finished reading Joe Mihalic's entire blog. He paid off $90k in student loans in 7 months. Here's a nice video summary of his journey:

His blog inspired me to write this blog. But I have to say that although his discipline is truly admirable, his circumstances are far different than my own, and not quite as applicable as I'd hoped they'd be. For one, he had a ton of assets--a house, 3 vehicles, $30k in investments--that I don't have. All of my earthly possessions fit in three suitcases (two checked and a carry-on) per my moving all over the place in the past 5 years. In which time I haven't stayed put for more than 12 months anywhere. Oh, and not to mention, not only does he have a job, but he banks like $70-$80k after taxes. He has a post where he talks about how his salary double from $50k to $100k after grad school. I'm now post grad school as well and my current target salary is what he was making before he went to grad school!? 

This contrast is mostly the nature of our professions: business vs. public service. I don't think I'll ever leave the public service, or my frugul lifestyle. I love it. I am very happy with the choices I've made, and the person I am. I want to just take the time to celebrate how spiritually, intellectually, and professionally fulfilled I am with the choices I've made. In other words, I'm already wealthy. 

During graduate school I worked and studied full time. That saved me about $20k and allowed me to save up again to take 6 months to "explore." I took a paid gig over the summer in education advocacy and an unpaid internship with a documentary film company in the fall. Those two things--education policy analysis and visual storytelling--are what make me feel most alive. I would do these even if I didn't get paid for them, which I've done a time or two-ha!

But now, I find myself a bit less "free" because as I brought down my undergrad loans from $28k to now about $7k, I piled on about $36k from graduate school. Ugh. So add to my 3 suitcases a $43k heavy ball and chain around my ankles, and I definitely don't feel as free or flexible. But although my net worth is negative, I have to keep it in perspective and remember that I'm already wealthy. 


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